Blessing for an unborn child

In 2008, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (who is the ordinary in Louisville) asked if there was a prayer of blessing for a child in the mother’s womb. Seeing that there was no such official prayer, the American bishops requested one. Now, the USCCB has issued a press release announcing that soon (after a long gestation period!) the prayer will be ready to be released. In a touch friendly to the secular calendar, it will appear by Mother’s Day.

Pray Tell asked Msgr. Rick Hilgartner to give us the update, which he kindly did. The BCDW is “still assembling components to a final text” putting together several parts of this that they received from Rome. He says that they hope to include at least the text of the blessing in the next BCDW newsletter. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, Pray Tell readers, anyone care to voice an opinion about what ought / ought not to be in such a prayer? And what about rubrics? Clearly there is a pro-life message in this. Lex orandi, lex credendi. But are there occasions when such a prayer might not be appropriate? What do you think? (It will be interesting to compare our thoughts with the text and guidance that actually appears in a few weeks.)

–rf

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18 comments

  1. The local Orthodox Church, being a small community prays for many of its people by name in the intentions.

    They always pray for unborn children by simply saying “the unborn child of Mary and Joseph (or whatever the parents names). I find it extremely impressive, kind of like becoming a member of the catechumenate before you are born.

    It reminds me very much of my mother who went to doctors for about four years before they discovered she was thyroid deficient. She prayed for my birth all that time, so I feel that I was prayed into existence. She almost died when I was born and received the last rites, and I was baptized on the day of my birth.

    So I am much in favor of starting the process of becoming a Christian early.

    1. Fascinating! I wrote an essay, around the birth of my son (so ca. 1995), suggesting that we insribe unborn children of faith-filled Catholic parents into a “book of life” as a kind of catechumenal beginning, a) to experience a journey of thee children being brought to baptism, or — in case such an unborn child dies — as a way of mourning a catechumen who was already present at worship every Sunday, in his mother’s womb.

  2. There ought not to be an assumption that every child in the womb will be born at all, let alone born healthy. Roughly one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage (statistics run both higher and lower, depending on the study), with the odds increasing for older women who are pregnant.

    If a woman whose pregnancy is blessed like this suffers a miscarriage, I would be concerned about how she would feel when she hears another blessing of another pregnancy of another woman. Will this rite stir up pain each time it is used? Similarly, will the woman who suffers a miscarriage after having had this blessing then suffer doubts about God and God’s love for her?

    A poorly worded blessing that assumes every pregnancy will end with a happy, healthy child could cause great spiritual damage when it runs into the reality of miscarriage. I would hope that the blessing carries a sense of mystery and “thy will be done” about the development of this new life in the womb.

    1. re: Peter Rehwaldt on March 28, 2012 – 4:12 pm

      I comment here with some trepidation since that I am not a parent. I agree with Peter that hopefully a priest would exercise the utmost discretion when announcing the availability of this prayer (a notice in the bulletin rather than an announcement from the pulpit, perhaps). I also hope that clergy will not volunteer to offer the prayer, but rather let a woman who is pregnant ask for the prayer. I also strongly suspect that offering this blessing as part of the Prayer of the Faithful or after Mass without direct and explicit consent from a woman who is pregnant might be particularly insensitive.

      Parishioners who are praying for a successful pregnancy but do not wish for a public blessing could write their names (and perhaps chosen names for an unborn child, if desired) into a “early catechumenal” book, as Teresa recommends. Perhaps one Mass a month could be set aside especially for the intention of all the unborn enrolled in this book, whether an unborn child has been prayed for publicly or not. This latter option would provide a level of privacy but also provide spiritual support.

  3. I think the numbers you quote — of miscarriages — are true for the period before nidation only, i.e. a point in time when usually not even the mother knows she has conceived.

  4. It seems to me that in addition to 1) the recognition of the personhood of the unborn child we should also recognize 2) the divine institution of the family (which precedes both Church and State) and 3) the unity of the mother and child during pregnancy, and 4) the mother as symbol of the Church.

    Thinking of this as somewhat parallel to the RCIA, I would suggest the following outline.

    1. Prayers for the entire family (as the familial and household church) that has received this new life. These prayers should have somewhat the character of exorcism in that they acknowledge all the difficulties and things that could go wrong both before and after pregnancy, and of blessing for all the roles and responsibilities that will ensue for various members of the family.

    2. Anointing with the Oil of Catechumens of the mother-child during pregnancy. This might occur multiple times, and might be done at home as well as at church, e.g. as part of a baby shower. Members of the family and others would be invited to extend their hands, and/or lay their hands in prayer over the mother-child.

    3. Anointing with the Oil of Catechumens of the child on the day of birth or shortly afterwards. Effectively this day would be the date of enrollment in the Catechumenate. Again prayers for all who will be involved in the raising of the child, and a blessing by the priest or deacon for mother and father. I also like the practice of fathers and mothers blessing their children and siblings blessing one another. This would be a good time for all of the family and friends to give their first blessing to the new baby. Hospitals are vying with one another for birthing suites as places for celebration.

    4. I do like the practice of baptisms during Mass.

  5. Always hesitate around these types of initiatives. In the right setting, fine.

    But, have seen the harm, hurt, and misguided intentions in the eyes of women who are unable to become pregnant for medical reasons; for women who have never been able to bear a child, etc.

    Am also not confident that folks (priests for example) will not use these prayers for their own ideological purposes (repeat of the Guarnizo episode).

    So, on the surface, imagining the RCIA steps feels and sounds nice but, again, only in a proper setting – not a church or parish wide eucharist.

    So, you can sense that I do not trust enough parish priests to use these prayers beyond special occasions.

    1. Bill,

      I am skeptical of the ability of the bishops and others to fashion any such rite from on high, and of parishes not to make another bureaucracy of it as they have done with initiation into the sacraments, and of priests to administer it with much sensitivity.

      If any such thing were to be done, I would hope it would be from the ground up as resources for families rather than for parishes. Given the increasing ecumenical nature of families, it would probably not include ordained ministers.

      When I was an adolescent I saw a movie about Cassocks in which the warrior leader baptized his son in the flowing waters of the stream, lifting him up to God. As we get more and more people being spiritual but not religious and attending nondenominational churches, I suspect such things will happen.

      Taft once made the remarked that the split between liturgical piety and devotional piety in the West did not occur in the East not because the East did not have devotions but because they incorporated them into the Liturgy. So I think liturgically inspired devotions are the way to reform the Divine Office and other aspects of liturgical life in the West.

  6. I’m an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and our Book of Occasional Services — Pastoral Care has several rites, prayers, and suggested scripture readings for different occasions related to pregnancy and childbirth: during pregnancy, infertility, before childbirth, birth of a child, and adoption of a child. I note that the prayer during pregnancy asks God’s “sustaining care for” the parents. It is not explicitly a blessing of the child, as this new USCCB blessing evidently will be.

    There is also a rite attached to the funeral liturgy entitled “When A Child Dies (Before or After Birth)” which the rubrics introduce as follows:

    “The materials in this section are provided for use when an infant is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. Some of these resources may also be useful in the event of a miscarriage.”

    All these rites and prayers, save for those connected with a funeral, are intended primarily for private use (such as at home, in the hospital, etc.), and not in a parishwide worship.

    1. Thanks, Peter – actually borrowed and used one of those when a faculty member and his wife lost a child at three months after difficult heart surgery. Some of these are beautiful prayers.

  7. If the church is hesitant or reluctant to pray for the pre-born because of the very real fact that not all pregnancies are successfully completed, should there not be a similar hestiation to announce publicly and then celebrate the marriage of So and So… given the equally real statistics which surround divorce?
    Similarly, the unmarried – who would like very much to be married, but who are not for whatever reason – can feel “singled out” and excluded from the Church’s prayer,
    which is obviously the prayer of/by/for and with all the people.

    1. Would suggest that you are mixing apples and oranges. It sounds contextually correct but it is wildy different and very different for the people who hear these.

  8. I find it strange that no one seems to have read through the orders of blessings already contained in the USA’s Book of Blessings and discovered that the unborn child is adequately addressed. In the section entitled “Blessings directly pertaining to persons,” the Book of Blessings contains orders for the blessing of: baptized children, a child not yet baptized, sons and daughters, an engaged couple, parents before childbirth (pp. 102-109), a mother before childbirth (pp. 110-116), a mother after childbirth, parents after a miscarriage, and parents and a adopted child. The orders of blessing are not formulated for use during Mass.

    You can find all these orders of blessing online at:
    http://www.trosch.org/lit/ble/blessings0.html

    The prayer of blessing in the Blessing of Parents before Childbirth reads: “Gracious Father, your Word, spoken in love, created the human family and, in the fullness of time, your Son, conceived in love, restored it to your friendship. // Hear the prayers of N. and N., who await the birth of their child. Calm their fears when they are anxious. Watch over and support these parents and bring their child into this world safely and in good health, so that as members of your family they may praise you and glorify you through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen.”

    The prayer of blessing in the Blessing of a Mother before Childbirth reads: “Lord God, Creator of the human race, your Son, through the working of the Holy Spirit, was born of a woman, so that he might pay the age-old debt of sin and save us by his redemption. // Receive with kindness the prayer of your servant as she asks for the birth of a healthy child. Grant that she may safely deliver a son or a daughter to be numbered among your family, to serve you in all things, and to gain eternal life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    Certainly the unborn child (or children) is included in each of these prayers of blessing with lofty sentiments (“so that as members of your family they may praise you and glorify you” and “a son or a daughter to be numbered among your family, to serve you in all things, and to gain eternal life”).

    My fear is that Archbishop Kurtz’ call for a new blessing for an unborn child may be ideologically driven. If so, that is regrettable.

  9. Thanks, Fr. Ron. Twenty five years ago did not find these blessings to be as diverse; thus, borrowed from others. Also, thanks for adding that these blessings are not intended for use at the eucharist. And, totally and emphatically agree with your last paragraph.

  10. Quite a few of the attendees of our baptism prep sessions are pregnant moms. If the blessing seems appropriate for the occasion, I could see incorporating it into these sessions.

  11. Jim Pauwels, absolutely!

    Today I received more info about the upcoming USCCB blessing of the unborn in a resource from the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. It stated that there would be two forms for the new blessing: one for use during Mass; one for use outside Mass.

    If that is the case, I sure hope the rubrics are clear that this blessing is only to be used when the parents (or the mother) request it, and that it not be used when a mother is not present or when she does not desire it (for instance, as a mother is walking into an abortion clinic). This is what I had in mind in my previous posting about a blessing/sacramental being used for ideological purposes.

  12. According to Fr. Z, this is what the blessing will say:

    God, author of all life,
    bless, we pray, this unborn child;
    give constant protection
    and grant a healthy birth that is the sign of our rebirth one day
    into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.

    Lord, who have brought this woman
    the wondrous joy of motherhood,
    grant her comfort in all anxiety
    and make her determined to lead her child along the ways of salvation.

    There is also an optional blessing for the father and the rest of the family, if present.

    Here are the relevant links:
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/04/cdwds-confirms-rite-for-the-blessing-of-a-child-in-the-womb/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wdtprs%2FDhFa+%28Fr.+Z%27s+Blog+-+What+Does+The+Prayer+Really+Say%3F%29
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/12_04_27_USCCB_Blessing_Child.jpg
    Here’s the link to the

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